How will Egypt’s Draft Anti-Terrorism Bill Impact the Muslim Brotherhood?

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Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohammed Mursi waves from inside the defendant's cage during his trial at the police academy in Cairo on January 8, 2015. AFP

By: Ahmed Suleiman

Published Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A “part” of the Egyptian state has given the banned Muslim Brotherhood a narrow margin to maneuver. The committee for legislative reform and the State Council, tasked with reviewing and issuing the law on “terrorist entities and groups,” have evaded the approval of a proposal by the security forces and the Ministry of the Interior to add entities, and persons to terrorist lists. The latter would be done at the request of the Attorney General based on security reports and intelligence provided by them without a judicial verdict.

Cairo – On the surface, a correlation cannot be easily made between this margin and the frequent news about reconciliation attempts between the group and representatives of state agencies, as the excessively repetitive news has become monotonous for both parties.

The national security committee — a subsidiary of the committee for legislative reform — chaired by Justice Majdi Ajati, president of the Legislation Department in the State Council, prepared a draft law for “identifying terrorist entities and creating an Egyptian terrorism list.” The committee is also responsible for reviewing the law and providing feedback. Thus, the same body that issued the law was assigned to review it.

What is remarkable is that Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim Huneidi has already determined the status of the Muslim Brotherhood under the new law. He said that “the law will be applied once it goes into effect, not retroactively.” This means that the decision of the Hazem Beblawi government in December 2013 to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group has no effect on the ground, and the group’s classification as a terrorist group would require the issuance of a court ruling, which has yet to happen.

This shows that the state is using several methods to deal with the group, such as the carrot and stick policy, or by occasionally conveying positive messages while continuing to restrict the group and its followers.

Salah al-Din Hassan, a researcher on Islamist movements, said that not all state institutions support the executive authorities, noting that “the constitutional law and framework must be preserved as a model for the upcoming Egyptian bureaucratic system.”

“Despite the acknowledgement of a breach of the law, this breach remains limited and is associated with certain circumstances. This even happened under Hosni Mubarak, whose term witnessed numerous clashes between the courts and the executive authority,” he adds.

Hassan says that the government follows multiple standards in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, even at the individual level. For example, a court decision ordering the release of Khaled Kazaz, the secretary of the dismissed President Mohammed Mursi, was implemented a few days ago, citing health reasons. However, “the executive authority implemented the decision while Mohammed Salah Sultan, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who is on hunger strike and suffering greatly, remains incarcerated,” he notes.

Another factor underlying the need to preserve the constitutional framework is the Egyptian judiciary’s responsibility towards international bodies, including international and human rights organizations that issue international situation reports. Therefore, the judiciary cannot make repeated violations, publicly and flagrantly.

As for the formulation of the law, the ministries of the interior and foreign affairs and Homeland Security (EHS) reportedly objected to the final draft of the law sent to the cabinet, before its referral to the president for approval. The security agencies requested that the law be resubmitted to the National Committee for International Cooperation for Combating Terrorism, which includes the Egyptian State Security Investigations Service (SSI), before it is approved. They also objected to the requirement under the law that a court ruling be issued against a person or entity on “terrorism” charges based on “intelligence provided by the security authorities” to avoid long and complex legal procedures, and also to prevent the issuance of acquittals in terrorism-related cases.

The authorized committee responded to two requests. The first one calls for including foreign terrorist groups and entities under the lists of terrorist entities if their involvement in terrorist acts is proven. However, the law does not specify how the groups’ involvement can be substantiated. The second calls for extending the inclusion period of an entity or person on the national terrorism list to three years pending their criminal prosecution, and putting them on the lists for another three years if convicted through a court ruling; in other words, extending the period before trial from one to three years, during which the defendant would be denied any political, legal, or union rights pending the issuance of a final verdict, which may prove their innocence.

According to observers, the security agencies are concerned because the law has charged one of the departments of the Cairo Court of Appeal with hearing these cases. These departments are governed through a seniority-based system, and there is fear that an unacceptable figure would be appointed as head of the department.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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